Teaching yoga is extremely rewarding, but it doesn’t come without its challenges. One thing on many instructors minds is “How can I gain and retain students?” It can quickly become a yoga instructor’s version of an inferiority complex, as if our worth is determined by the enormity of our class. Obviously bigger is better… right?
Of course, the answer is no. Our value is not determined by our class size, but by the quality of our classes; coincidentally, students come back to classes they find value in! In order to offer a high-quality class, I offer you five tenets to help you find your authentic self (and stand out!), pin down your market, and pull it all together.
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When we step in front of a class, we have to be able to speak from the heart. Students know a fake facade when they see one. Be authentic and real. Our “voice” and story will speak to them.
What brought you to yoga? What struggles/hardships have you trudged through successfully? Do you have something unique about you? What hobbies do you do? Do you create badass yoga playlists that your students look forward to every class? Do you read out of a book you’re enjoying during savasana? Do you enjoy pranayama (breathwork) or meditation?
If so, share that with your students! All of this will help foster connections with our students, which grow over time and turn into a beautiful teacher-student relationship.
Know Your Teaching Style
Students gravitate towards specific teaching styles because of:
- their personality
- the type of class they are looking for
- and the methodology they learn from best
Usually, the student and the instructor share similar personalities. An outgoing, bubbly instructor with a high energy class will attract outgoing, bubbly students who are full of energy. A laid back instructor who teaches slow flow and really emphasizes a zen-like atmosphere will draw students with those attributes, or those who are seeking a peaceful state of mind.
A note of importance— we already have to have a sense of “who we are”; this goes back to the whole “being authentic” thing. A great teacher is consistent in their personality and dynamics of their class. Once a teaching style is established, stick with it! The goal of any teacher is to have a core group of students who shows up consistently. This isn’t going to happen if the students can’t get a feel of “who you are”, or if the routine is constantly changing.
Know How to Create “The Space”
When a student walks into the studio, shala, sacred space, etc. it should feel inviting! Let’s put aside the fancy spaces with the aromatherapy, freshly painted walls and bamboo flooring. The teacher and students are what make the space.
The instructor creates an environment that’s warm and safe. It’s a place where the yogi can find peace and tranquility, where they can unload their stress. A place for the student to work through their problems on the mat and find space in moving meditation. Judgment isn’t welcome here, but encouragement and perseverance are. Friendships are forged and camaraderie can be seen among all. Trust between teacher and student is a foundation built brick by brick, and the relationship is constantly nurtured. All of this creates an environment where the student feels like they are coming “home”.
Know Your Students
When students decide to make the leap and take a class with us, we should make an effort to get to know them! As time allows, find out the following: why they came to our class, what they want out of yoga (ex. workout, tension relief, physical therapy, etc.) and find out if they have any physical limitations or injuries that will need extra attention. The student will appreciate the extra effort and will feel like they aren’t just “a number”.
Know How to Give Assists/Modifications (Or When Not To)
Instructors know their student’s bodies— injuries, bony compression, mobility issues (due to lack of flexibility), etc. Because of this, we’re able to offer modifications that make poses more comfortable, attainable and safe. It’s our job to know the level of our students— to know when they’re pushing too hard or are slacking off. We can encourage them when they’re about to give up, or get them to back off when injury could occur.
Making time to assist a student verbally, or hands on, can be a magical process. It should be done with love and compassion, and done gently, so that the student can ease themselves in with their breath. Assisting a student into proper alignment, easing visible tension, or gently guiding them deeper into a pose is something they simply cannot get from watching a video or reading a book. One assist or modification can change everything if done correctly.
With that said, keep in mind that you don’t have to get your hands on every student. Sometimes, holding space for a student is more than enough. Learn to acknowledge the individual needs of each student and that will create a unique experience for everyone.